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MetShape helps flu research with high-precision 3D-printed virus model

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MetShape, a Germany-based 3D printing service provider specializing in small-scale metal parts, 3D printed a high-precision model of a virus for use in flu research.

Produced using the company’s LMM (Lithography-based Metal Manufacturing) technology, the model will be used by CIC nanoGUNE, the Basque Center for Cooperative Research in Nanosciences, to study virus transmission mechanisms.

Alexander Bittner, Research Professor at nanoGUNE, said: “With the new possibilities offered by innovative manufacturing technologies, we are taking a big step towards our long-term goal of protecting as many people as possible against infections. viral.

The 30mm flu virus model 3D printed by MetShape. Photo via MetShape.

Study the transmission mechanisms of viruses

Viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and influenza are transmitted largely through water droplets, or aerosols, that we spray when we speak, cough or sneeze. Virus-laden liquid aerosols lose their water content very quickly in the air, drying out and potentially inactivating the virus particles inside. On the other hand, mass loss due to evaporation leads to longer residence time of viruses in the air. It is this fine balance that determines how transmissible a virus is.

As such, a thorough understanding of virus aerosols is crucial if we are to explore the transmission mechanisms on which they rely, which ultimately allows us to develop preventive measures.

CIC nanoGUNE is currently studying both the physics and chemistry of viral aerosols. The center’s research requires models of viruses that are as detailed, small and precise as possible, which is why it routinely uses nanoscale molecular clusters. Unfortunately, in the case of influenza, these models are only 120 nm in diameter, making it very difficult to study the capillaries that extend between the spike proteins on the surface of the virus.

To complement nanoscale wetting and dewetting studies, nanoGUNE is increasingly using centimeter-scale water/virus models, expanding structures such as capillaries to make them easier to study.

Small scale metal 3D printing with MetShape

In a recent investigation, nanoGUNE needed a centimeter-scale influenza model with tip capillaries less than 1 mm, otherwise the force of gravity in the wetting study would invalidate the results. Such resolution would have been impossible to achieve using a process like binder jetting or powder bed fusion, so nanoGUNE turned to MetShape.

MetShape’s LMM 3D printing technology is a two-step process, in which binder-infused metallic raw materials are light-cured into cross-linked parts before being sintered to achieve thermal debinding. The process is particularly well suited to the production of small, precise metal parts, making it an ideal option in this case.

The company 3D-printed a 250,000:1 scale model of the flu virus, giving it a diameter of around 30mm. Since LMM is a supportless process, no post-processing steps were required and the model had excellent surface quality right out of the build chamber.

When it came time to conduct the study, the metal model performed significantly better than a larger polymer counterpart. Due to its small size, the metal model had good wetting characteristics. On the other hand, the conventional polymer model accumulated excessive water mass which resulted in the formation of water droplets on the surface, ultimately invalidating the tests.

Bittner added, “With the model printed by MetShape, we can now conduct our water wetting and dewetting experiments on viruses and thus take another step forward in the search for viral aerosols.”

The difference in water geometry on polymer and metal models.  Photo via MetShape.
The difference in water geometry on polymer and metal models. Photo via MetShape.

Enable the modeling of complex anatomy

Additive manufacturing and anatomical modeling go hand in hand, whether it’s the anatomy of a virus or the anatomy of a human being. Most recently, 3D printed anatomical models developed by rapid prototyping service provider Laser Modeling Israel (LMI) helped surgeons in a complex segmentation operation for conjoined twins. Produced using HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology, the 3D printed models were practiced by surgeons before performing the operation, which was expected to be extremely difficult with multiple complications.

Elsewhere, industrial 3D printer maker Stratasys recently partnered with digital services company Ricoh USA to provide 3D printed anatomical modeling services to healthcare facilities. As part of this partnership, Stratasys 3D printing technology will be integrated into Ricoh USA’s Ricoh 3D for Healthcare workflow to increase access to 3D printed medical models for medical facilities and clinicians.

Before the new year, Stratasys even introduced a new software module, the Digital Anatomy Creator, for its Digital Anatomy 3D printers to improve the production of 3D printed anatomical models.

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Featured image shows the 30mm flu virus model 3D printed by MetShape. Photo via MetShape.